Grammar Tips (#3): Gs, hard and soft

This time around, the spotlight is on the letter G (guê / gê); as you’ll see, it has a few similarities with and ç that someone encountering any written Portuguese word might miss at first glance (that is, without knowing how words are pronounced beforehand).

O gato gordo não gosta de gelados nem de gelatina; prefere pizas e hambúrgueres. The fat cat doesn’t like ice cream nor jello; it prefers pizzas and hamburguers.

#1: When followed by and i, G has a soft g, /ʒ/ sound.

In English, that soft sound is actually /dʒ/, so to get your ge and gi right you need to learn to remove the /d/ sound that exists in English; if it helps, think of the few words in English that have that sound without the d (for example, the s in vision, illusion, confusion).

  • [a] girafa (giraffe): ʒi.ɾˈa.fɐ
  • [a] gelatina (gelatin/jello): ʒɨ.lɐ.tˈi.nɐ
  • [o] gelado (ice cream): ʒɨ.lˈa.du
  • [o/a] oftalmologista (ophthalmologist = eye doctor): ɔf.taɫʒˈiʃ.tɐ

#2: When followed by a, o, u or a consonant, G has a hard g, /g/, sound.

This sound is the same as in English.

  • [a] garrafa (bottle): gɐ.ʀˈa.fɐ
  • [o] golo (goal / sip): gˈ
  • guloso/a (gluttonous, sweet-toothed): gu.lˈo.zu
  • [a] gravata (tie): gɾɐ.vˈa.tɐ

#3: To get a hard /g/ sound before or i, you have to add an after the g – that is, gue and gui.

  • [a] guerra (war): gˈɛ.ʀɐ
  • [o] gueto (ghetto): gˈe.tu
  • [a] guitarra (guitar): gi.tˈa.ʀɐ
  • [o] guizo (jingle bell, rattle): gˈi.zu

#4: The digraph gu is also used before and o, where it represents either the sounds /gw/ or two separate syllables, with the first being /gu/.

  • [o/a] guarda (guard): gwˈaɾ.dɐ
  • [o] guardanapo (napkip): gwɐɾ.dɐ.nˈa.pu
  • ambíguo (ambiguous): ɐ̃.bˈi.gwu

The last case – /gu/- appears in form of verbs ending in –guar:

  • [eu] apaziguo (I appease, I reconcile): ɐ.pɐ.zi.gˈu.u

#5: J is mainly used to fill the gaps left by G; that is, before a, o, and to get a soft g, /ʒ/, sound.

  • [o] jarro / [a] jarra (vase, jug, pitcher): ʒˈa.ʀu / ʒˈa.ʀɐ
  • [o] jogo (game): ʒˈ
  • [a] justiça (justice): ʒuʃ.tˈi.sɐ

This rule is especially important because some verbs with radicals ending in a soft g (in the 2nd conjugation – verbs with infinitives ending in -er, therefore –ger; and the 3rd conjugation – verbs with infinitives ending in -ir, therefore –gir; see rule #1 above) are forced to take forms with j before tense endings a and o to maintain the same sound throughout.

For example, the first person singular (I) forms for the indicative present of the verbs ranger (to creak; to grind [one’s teeth]) and agir (to act) are (eu) ranjo and (eu) ajo, respectively, but its second person singular (you, informal) forms are (tu) ranges and (tu) ages.

#6: J is also used with and i, mainly with words from the same family (with the base/lemma form having a j because of rule #4).

For example, the word [a] lisonja (flattery) provides us with the nouns [o/a] lisonjeador/a (flatterer), the verb lisonjear (to flatter) and the adjective lisonjeiro (flattering).

There are a few words that are naturally spelled with je and ji, therefore bypassing these rules altogether, including Jesus (Jesus, and therefore [o/a] jesuíta, Jesuit), Jerónimo (Hieronymus), Jeová (Jehovah), jeito (aptitude, ability), jejum (fast), jiboia (boa, a type of snake); loanwords like jet lagjingle, jipe (jeep) and jiu-jitsu; and placenames like Jerusalém and Nova Jérsia (New Jersey, the US state).

In any case, j has the same sound (always a soft g, /ʒ/) regardless of the vowel that follows.

To summarize:

Before ao, and u Before e and i
Hard g sound, /g/ g (also before consonants) gu
Soft g sound, /ʒ/ j g

j (a few lemma words, plus words derived from lemmas with a j followed by a, o, and u)



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